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Native Languages of the Americas: Naskapi Innu (Innu-aimun)
Les Naskapi (French version)
Language: Naskapi is an Algonkian language spoken by nearly 1000
people in eastern Canada. The Naskapi and Montagnais are actually part of the same
Indian nation, calling themselves Innu; their languages, however, have diverged enough that most linguists
consider them separate languages (though some do class Naskapi as a dialect of Montagnais, or both as dialects of the
Cree language). Naskapi is spoken by members of two Innu communities in
Quebec and Labrador (Kawawachikamach and Mushuau, respectively).
Its own speakers call the language Innu-aimun,
but as Montagnais speakers refer to their language as Innu Aimun also, linguists tend to call the two languages
Montagnais Innu and Naskapi Innu for distinguishing purposes. Though the Innu face many social crises
today, language loss is not one of them, and virtually every child in the two Naskapi-speaking bands is fluent
in their traditional tongue. Illiteracy is a bigger problem in these impoverished communities, where education
is inadequate and usually in French. When Naskapi is written, either the French alphabet or the Cree syllabary is used.
Like other Algonquian languages, Montagnais is a polysynthetic language with complex verb morphology
and fairly free word order.
People: The two peoples known to white settlers as 'Montagnais' and
'Naskapi' were actually members of the same tribe, Innu. The Montagnais identified some of their
neighbors as Naskapi, variously said to mean 'interior people' or 'shabby dressers,' and from then on
the Europeans treated them as two different tribes. In their opinion, though, they have
always been different communities within the same nation. There are about 14,000 Innu in Labrador and Quebec
today, of whom only 800 (the Mushuau and Kawawachikamach bands) are Naskapi Indians. Though the Innu and
Inuit are neighbors, the similarity between their names is coincidental--their languages are
not at all related and have no more in common with each other than with English.
History: Early Innu relations with Europeans were friendly and mutually beneficial,
as the Innu traded furs with the French and allied with them against the Iroquois Confederacy.
Unfortunately for the Innu, once other Europeans had erased their initial advantage by selling
firearms to the Iroquois as well, that powerful alliance of nations defeated French, Innu,
and Algonquin alike, and between war and European diseases, the Innu population was decimated.
The survivors were settled in villages by well-intended Europeans, but Innu land, unlike the land
of the village-based Indians elsewhere in North America, was not well-suited to agriculture,
and deprived of the their previously effective hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the Innu rapidly fell
into poverty and dependency. The Innu today are struggling to regain control over their
traditional lands, which the governments of Canada and Quebec are using for mining, logging,
building power plants, and running military exercises without the permission of the natives
trying to eke out a living there. Most recently, mercury runoff from the power plants
contaminated the drinking water of the Innu and their neighbors the Atikamek, and the Innu
are now calling for all industrial projects on Innu land to be immediately suspended.
Naskapi Language Resources
Naskapi language samples, articles, and indexed links.
Innu Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Innu people past and present.
Innu Indians Fact Sheet
Our answers to frequently asked questions about the Innus, their language and culture.
Introduction to Montagnais and Naskapi Indian mythology.
Our Online Naskapi Language Materials
List of vocabulary words in the Naskapi language, with comparison to words in other Algonquian languages.
Naskapi Animal Words:
Illustrated glossary of animal words in the Naskapi Innu language.
Naskapi Dictionary, Audio Tape and Language Resources
Cree, Montagnais, Naskapis Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi Publications:
Bibliographies of Cree, Montagnais and Naskapi language materials.
American Indian Dictionaries:
Innu and other native language dictionaries and language materials for sale.
Language Community and Tools
Naskapi Fonts UCAS for Windows:
Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics (sometimes used for writing Naskapi), available for free download.
Naskapi Language Lessons and Linguistic Descriptions
Website dedicated to the Montagnais and Naskapi Innu languages, with online lessons, texts, and linguistics papers. Mostly PDF format.
Eastern and Western Naskapi:
General linguistic description of Naskapi and its two dialects.
Naskapi Syllabary Naskapi:
Orthography and text examples for Naskapi Innu.
Practical Implications of a Doctoral Dissertation on Naskapi:
Overview of the Naskapi language, and abstract of a thesis about it.
Obviation and Coreference in Naskapi:
Research paper by linguist Julie Brittain about Naskapi syntax.
Online dictionary in Naskapi, English and French.
Freelang Naskapi Dictionary:
Free downloadable wordlist from the Naskapi Innu language.
Naskapi Innu Language Naskapi Language Map Naskapi Orthography Naskapi Grammar Naskapi Phonology:
Scanned-in Naskapi language materials from the Rosetta Project.
Naskapi Language Tree Eastern Naskapi Language Tree Western Naskapi Language Tree:
Theories about Naskapi's language relationships compiled by Linguist List.
Naskapi Language Structures:
Naskapi linguistic profile and academic bibliography.
Literature and Texts in the Naskapi Language
Information on Naskapi history, government, programs and news in the Naskapi language. (Naskapi font required.)
Language Museum: Naskapi::
Christian prayer in Naskapi Indian translation.
Canadian Human Rights Tribute: Naskapi:
Plaque in the Naskapi Indian language (written in Cree syllabics).
Naskapi Language Preservation and Usage
Demographic information about Naskapi from the Ethnologue of Languages.
Naskapi Proper Names
Innu Placenames in Nitassinan Innu Place Names:
Innu placenames (primarily Montagnais).
Additional Resources, Links, and References
Encyclopedia articles on the Naskapi language.
La Lengua Naskapi:
Article on the Naskapi language in Spanish. With a language map.
Naskapi Innu Language:
Naskapi Indian books.
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